Guillermo del Toro is a likable guy, plain and simple. He’s a fan first, as he will quickly tell you, and eager to discuss anything he's got going whether it's acquisition for his Bleak House man cave (his collection of stuff is so big he needed a second house to hold it) to the next project he’s directing or producing.
While some actors and directors may dread the craziness of Comic-Con, del Toro looks forward to it each and every year. And even with a bulging disc in his back, he made it out for a score of panels to speak with fans and also sat down with press to talk about “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” a remake he has produced of the 1973 made-for-TV movie about a little girl who goes to live with her father and his girlfriend only to discover the house is infested with some nasty creatures with bad intentions. First-timer Troy Nixey helms the film, which stars Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes and Bailee Madison. Here are five things we learned from our discussion about Comic-Con’s ultimate fan (and the savior of genre cinema).
1. Guillermo Del Toro LOVES Comic-Con. He also sees it as a chance to scout new talent.
Del Toro was attending Comic-Con and similar conventions long before he was making movies. That hasn’t changed. But walking the floor is a bigger challenge these days. “I cannot walk through the floor any more,” del Toro said. “It’s very sad. I do it in the morning like a strange man. I’m going to buy a mask of a mexican wrestler and walk the floor. Mercifully, there’s a lot of my body types at Comic-Con. (Laughs) I can be easily confused.”
Beyond being a fan, del Toro sees Comic-Con as a chance to step back and remember what his hard work is all about. And considering his recent troubles getting projects like “The Hobbit,” “At the Mountains of Madness,” “Frankenstein” and “Hellboy 3” off the ground, the director admits he sometimes needs boost. “I just love Comic-Con. Here and in jail I get well received. It is like going to have milk and cookies with 6,000 of my closest friends. Our craftsmanship is very lonely work. We work with a team, but we are very isolated. I think Comic-Con is rejuvenating. You remember what you are working for and where you belong. It’s really fantastic. It's like renewing your vows when you're married. I love every year. I can’t choose. You cannot get this fat by choosing.(Laughs) "
And if you’re an artist with work on display at Comic-Con, you just might be auditioning for a gig with del Toro. “I love them all for different reasons. Sometimes I find a fantastic toy. Sometimes I meet a guy who winds up working with me. I've hired designers off the floor from Comic-Con. Almost in every movie. In this last one, there’s a guy called Allen Williams. I saw his booth at Comic-Con. He’d never worked in the movies and now he was with us on ‘Mountains of Madness’ and ‘Pacific Rim.’”
2. Del Toro considers himself a fan first.
The writer/director/producer has been a fan for his entire life. He’s only been a filmmaker for a few decades. Rather than feeling competitive when he sees a great genre film from another director, del Toro says he gets excited. “The one thing that I want to be all my life is a fan,” he says. “I don’t know if I will be a filmmaker all my life. Things happen, things don’t. You can make movies and then they don’t give you the money. What I want to be the rest of my life is a fan.”
“We were in the panel with ‘Drive’ and I’m a huge fan. It’s a fantastic movie. [Nicolas Winding] Refn is an awesome director. I think it is very important to keep yourself open to amazement. If you don’t get amazement from the medium you love, you die," he said. "I’m a ‘Famous Monsters of Filmland’ fan. Forry (Forest J. Ackerman) made it a point to celebrate the genre. A lot of that spirit has died in certain areas of the internet. A lot of web sites are about condemning part of the genre or outsmarting this or that. I come from the Forry school. We’re enthusiastic about stuff.”
3. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” took a while to make because del Toro didn’t want to repeat the mistakes of “Mimic.”
Guillermo del Toro has been candid about the less-than-stellar experience he had in his first brush with Hollywood directing the 1997 sci-fi horror flick, “Mimic.” At the time, he was interested in doing a remake of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” but Dimension held the rights. "I wrote it with [Matthew Robbins] in 1998 and it was at Dimension. I didn’t want to do a second movie with Dimension because I had just done ‘Mimic.’ When Miramax went down, we were after it,” he explained.
The original film didn’t greatly explain the origin of the creatures. Del Toro promises hints in the remake, but don’t expect an out-and-out explanation. “We have an origin story. Matthew and I talked about it before writing it. Some of it is evident in the film. Some of it is hinted. But at the end of the day, one of the great things about the TV movie is that they didn’t tell you what they were for sure. It hinted at it. I think part of what works in horror is not explaining everything.”
4. He hoped “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” would scare kids “crapless,” but now he sees the R-rating is a "badge of honor." And he still let his kids see it.
'Dark' had always been planned as a PG-13 movie aimed just as squarely at the teen crowd as at adults. But once the MPAA got through their review, they decided the goosebumps it gave them were enough to warrant an R-rating. "It changes a lot from a commercial point of view,” says del Toro. “I would have loved for it to be PG-13. We conceived it as a very classically made, spooky movie that would have the same effect it had on me as a kid. I wanted to completely scare younger generations crapless.”
But the producer always prefers to look on the bright side. “It’s really a badge of honor because they gave us an R for being scary. It’s not an R for being gory. The decision was do we change it to get the PG-13 or keep it an R? I’m a big believer that, if you get an R and the movie’s good, you keep the R. Why destroy the movie to make it more marketable? I think it’s a mistake."
The MPAA didn’t stop del Toro from showing it to his own kids. “Oh yeah, they already saw it,” laughs del Toro. “I think 8 years old is extreme, [but] 13, 11, 12 for sure. Video games are much more brutal than people even remember. And cartoons are really aggressive and crazy in a beautiful way.”
5. Producing is a chance to learn and make him an even better director.
Del Toro had initially viewed “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” as a movie he might direct, but once he obtained the rights he felt there were some similarities between the project and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” So he turned to Troy Nixey, a young filmmaker del Toro thought he just might learn a thing or two from. “I like producing first time filmmakers and its a very necessary thing in the genre. You learn a lot. I love teaching. People say, ‘It’s very generous for you to teach’ and I say, ‘No, it’s very greedy’ because you learn. You are seeing other people doing things a different way. I learned a lot from producing ‘Orphanage.’ It’s really about renewing yourself.”
6. What scares Del Toro?
You might think Guillermo del Toro has watched enough horror movies at this point to completely desensitize himself from scares. Not the case. “A lot of the original Dan Curtis telefilms scared me,” del Toro tells press. “‘The Norliss Tapes’ scared me a lot. The fetish doll in ‘Trilogy of Terror.’ The original ‘Alien,’ which is at the same time one of the most beautifully designed creatures in the history of film and one of the scariest. The ending of ‘Freaks’ when they finally reveal everyone, that used to send me screaming. ‘Night Gallery’ used to be the scariest thing for me.”
Even the creatures in “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” had an, err, uncomfortable effect on him. “These creatures made me crap in my pants,” del Toro says openly. “They seriously did.”
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” opens in theaters nationwide August 26th, 2011. --Guillermo Del Toro Comic-Con image via Famous Monsters Of Filmland.